Groundhog Day

This Groundhog Day, sleet covers the eight foot drifts of snow. There’s not a chance in the world that any woodchuck can get out of its burrow today, much less catch a glimpse of sun.  There’s a joke in this, of course. The lore says that if a groundhog sees his shadow on the second of February, he’s come out to gather food for six more weeks of winter to come.  But, if the weather is overcast and the groundhog sees no shadow, spring will soon arrive — in just a month and a half!

It’s all in how you look at it.

I’ve been looking at my positive intentions as I hurtle toward fifty: learning about magic and mercy, making community and closet space.  But this forty-ninth year is not simply about choosing how I will look forward.  it also involves looking back and taking stock. I can only set realistic intentions for going forward if I understand where I am now and how I got here.

And where I am today is stranded indoors, thinking about opportunities unseized and chances missed. This is a well-worn track in my life, I fear.  I’m the sort of person who mostly sees opportunities in hindsight – the missed connection, the offer of help ignored – and then feels bad about it.

I dwell on things I lacked the courage or know-how to pursue: why, I have friends who could have helped me become a famous poet or a fashion writer! I had the opportunity to remain an American ex-pat or become a great organizational leader! I could have been someone who played tennis, who spoke French flawlessly, who wrote important works from a snug little cottage deep in the Canadian woods! If only I’d had the discipline, or the vision, or the nerve. If only I had understood the opportunity that was there. If only,  if only.

If only life was like the movie Groundhog Day, where Bill Murray gets a “do over” of a single awful day. He slowly comes to appreciate the opportunity present in every moment,  until he finally learns the secret : it’s all in how you look at it.

Some days I want to believe George Eliot : “It’s never too late to be who you might have been.” But facing fifty with integrity is about looking missed chances dead in the eye.  I can still learn to publish poems, but my youthful dreams of fame are unlikely. These knees may get better, but they will never, ever play tennis.

Facing fifty means facing the fact that some trains have left the station: I am too old to mortgage myself into a house, and will likely spend my life in this tacky little condo surrounded by noisy American neighbors and riparian woods and scrub. Now that I’ve hit my Latest Possible Forties,  potential employers  take a look at me and  pass — they say if ever I was going to be a great organizational leader, I’d have become one by now.  My bookshelf indicts me with 23 dusty French novels.

Getting to fifty with clear intentions requires me to look at who I’ve become with a flinty eye. I have to accept who  I am—and mourn my lost dreams – before I can set a path for who I want to become.

If the lesson of Groundhog Day is that it’s all in how you look at it , then the first requirement  is to bear being able to look.  Because an unflinching look at the past is the only Groundhog Day do-over we get.

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